The CIA's wartime 'simple sabotage' guide instructed spies to be bad at office jobs

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Have you ever had a day, perhaps a Monday, when your officemates seem so intentionally, deliberately, insufferably stupid that you think to yourself, they must be doing this on purpose?


No law-abiding, patriotic citizen, you might say to yourself, would keep me in this meeting for this long. Nobody who really is who she says she is would tell me this dull, pointless story about the weekend trip she took with her family. Surely, you may think to yourself, these are spies plotting deliberately against me, killing my spirit and the fabric of society at large as part of a greater mission. If you think these thoughts you are probably wrong, but know that European office workers who felt this way in 1944 were right.

A declassified World War II-era document, titled "Simple Sabotage Field Manual," encouraged spies and others to contribute to the war effort in the most mundane way imaginable—essentially, by being willfully annoying at work. In an introduction to the manual, then head of the the Office of Strategic Services (which later became the CIA) William J. Donovan wrote that "the contents of this Manual should be carefully controlled and should not be allowed to come into unauthorized hands."

The guide stresses that though the sabotage may be simple, it can be extremely effective. "Acts of simple sabotage," Donavan wrote, "multiplied by thousands of citizen-saboteurs, can be an effective weapon against the enemy… Occurring on a wide scale, simple sabotage will be a constant and tangible drag on the war effort of the enemy."

The guide offers tips on simple sabotage in various fields, but perhaps the most poignant are the instructions on how to commit simple sabotage in an office.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

Managers were advised to, among other things::

"Multiply the procedures and clearances involved in issuing instructions, pay checks, and so on. See that three people have to approve everything where one would do."

"Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions."

"Multiply paper work in plausible ways. Start duplicate files."

This image was removed due to legal reasons.
This image was removed due to legal reasons.

And workers:

"Make mistake in quantities of material when you are copying orders. Confuse similar names. Use wrong addresses."

"Spread disturbing rumors that sound like inside dope."

"Pretend that instructions are hard to understand, and ask to have them repeated more than once. Or pretend that you are particularly anxious to do your work, and pester the foreman with unnecessary questions."

"Do your work poorly and blame it on bad tools, machinery or equipment. Complain that these things are preventing you from doing your job right."


With tactics like these, it's no wonder the U.S. emerged victorious.

Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.